- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

President Clinton's vaunted job-approval ratings turn out to be no better than average compared with other modern presidents.
Mr. Clinton, who will leave the presidency Jan. 20 after eight years in the Oval Office, has an overall job-approval rating average of 54 percent, according to numbers compiled by the Gallup Organization. That is more than a percentage point below the modern average of 55.4 percent for presidents since 1953.
The president with the highest approval-rating average is John F. Kennedy, who scored a 70 percent average in his nearly three years in office, cut short by his assassination in 1963.
The lowest approval-rating average went to President Carter, who left office with 45 percent.
Mr. Clinton also failed to live up to the average high rating for presidents. Mr. Clinton's peak came in December 1998 as the House of Representatives was considering articles of impeachment against him with a 73 percent job-approval rating.
The average high for recent presidents was 75.6 percent. The highest single approval rating recorded by Gallup was for President Bush, who reached 89 percent support in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war.
Mr. Clinton's approval ratings, while marginally below average, are nonetheless impressive. Mr. Clinton's presidency was buffeted by scandal, damaged by policy failures, and his first year was marred by what strategists of both parties say was a disastrously mishandled transition.
And Mr. Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, only the second president to face such a humiliation.
"The remarkable thing is that [Clinton] is a survivor," Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said after considering Mr. Clinton's approval numbers. "After eight years, after all he's been through and all he's put the country through, he's still standing."
Although his ratings are slightly below average for his two terms as president, Mr. Clinton actually is leaving office in a better position than any of his recent predecessors. Mr. Clinton has the highest approval rating of any post-World War II president in his final month in office.
A Gallup poll taken earlier this month shows Mr. Clinton with a 66 percent job-approval rating. At the same time in their terms, President Reagan enjoyed a 63 percent rating and President Eisenhower had a 59 percent rating.
Half of all modern presidents have had approval ratings below 50 percent in their final month in office: Mr. Bush, 49; Mr. Carter, 34; President Johnson, 44; and President Truman, 32. President Nixon resigned more than two years before his term was to expire and therefore is not included in Gallup's list of final-month polling.
Mr. Nixon did, however, manage to maintain a 49 percent average approval rating in his six years in office, despite the furor over the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, which forced his resignation in 1974.
Mr. Clinton did slightly better overall than Mr. Reagan, the only other man since 1961 to serve two full terms as president. Mr. Reagan's average was 53 percent, with a high of 65 and a low of 35.
Mr. Clinton also managed to eclipse his predecessors in resuscitating a damaged political reputation. Unlike most presidents, who tend to start high in public esteem and slump through their terms, Mr. Clinton is leaving office with approval ratings far higher than when he started.
Mr. Clinton's low point came only five months into his new administration, with a 37 percent approval rating in June 1993. He was struggling at the time with a series of missteps, including the indecisive handling of his proposal to allows homosexuals to serve openly in the military and his difficulty in filling key Cabinet posts half a year after the election.
But Mr. Clinton's surging numbers in recent years have not been mirrored in his personal approval ratings. According to Gallup's surveys, Americans have become increasingly suspicious of the president's character and trustworthiness.
In January 1999, for example, while his job-approval ratings hovered in the high 60s, Gallup found that only 24 percent of Americans rated the president "honest and trustworthy."
In February 1997, a year before the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal broke, 49 percent of Americans said Mr. Clinton was honest and trustworthy.
"You're really measuring a roller-coaster ride," Mr. Hess said.

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